Declining treatment when one is clearly going to die soon in spite of anything that medicine can offer is one thing, but rendering oneself terminally ill by declining treatment that could offer several years of life seems another thing to us. That is what Robert Mitton, who was featured in a recent NY Times article we won’t link, a puff piece for assisted suicide, wants to do. He had a successful valve replacement surgery, but only the first post on this man’s blog tells us how long a life that valve gave him: fourteen and a half years! He is 58 years old now. Could he live another fourteen and a half years, until he is seventy two? He does not seem terminally ill to us ( http://dying-with-dignity.blogspot.com/. The post is is at the bottom of the page, which reads from the beginning up, just above the big logo for the site).
Destitute and alone, he has become a “death with dignity” celebrity. In another blog post (Feb. 7, 2014) , he lashes out at Compassion and Choices for having “glommed on” to the NY Times article, which quotes C and C director, Barbara Coombs Lee; he knows they are using him.
Mitton seems to be aware that he can kill himself without physician assistance. He has been shopping for illicit drugs via the internet and finding them hard but not impossible to obtain. In a debate with disability rights activist John Kelly that was televised on Al Jazeera last night, he says that if he can’t manage to buy an illicit drug, he will have to find another means of committing suicide and that he is looking for the “most comfortable” way to do it.
We should all remember that an assisted suicide death is a death by poisoning. Robert Mitton may or may not know it, but poisoning is the second most common means of committing unassisted suicides in Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal; it is the most common means of suicide by women. A very few of these deaths are by carbon monoxide; most suicides by poisoning are the result of people’s taking a combination of easily obtained prescription drugs. If Mitton had not announced to the world his intention to commit suicide, he could surely have easily gotten prescriptions for these drugs, for the pain he says he is feeling, for the anxiety of someone who has no money and who has been told he will die within six months if he does not have the treatment he says he won’t have. Failing to get prescriptions, Mitton could commit suicide by poisoning using over the counter drugs, as many Oregonians did, according to a 2012 report published by the Oregon government (p 12 at https://public.health.oregon.gov/DiseasesConditions/InjuryFatalityData/Documents/NVDRS/Suicide%20in%20Oregon%202012%20report.pdf).
In the radio talk show call that constitutes his very first blog post and which we discussed above, he says a person should be able to choose the means and manner of his dying and get assistance with that choice. The proponents of assisted suicide constantly tell us that this is something only for the terminally ill, not for anyone who wants to choose death. True Dignity does not believe that is the truth. What they really want is assisted suicide on demand, no questions asked. Certainly that is what Robert Mitton, intentionally or unintentionally, says he wants.
John Kelly did an excellent job of explaining why disability rights advocates oppose the medical profession’s getting involved in suicide, why legal assisted suicide is not about Mitton but about the corruption of our states and our doctors. Doctors already tell people with disabilities like John that their lives are not worth living, by constantly asking them if they want treatment for easily treatable conditions, by urging them to sign advance documents declining treatment, sometimes even by forcing them to fight for treatment when they are sick and at their most vulnerable. In the worst cases, people with disabilities wake up in hospital beds to find that “Do Not Resuscitate” orders have been placed on their charts without their permission. Hospitals in Texas have the right to withdraw life sustaining treatment without the patient or his spokesperson’s consent. People with disabilities also have to fight to get the services they need paid for. Living under these conditions all the time, they know that legal assisted suicide will make things much, much harder and much, much more dangerous for them.
Today, Robert Mitton’s blog says, “John Kelly is trying his best to decide for me”. That is not true. We hate to say it, because we believe, along with John Kelly, that individuals and the state should offer Mitton support to live, hopefully making him want to live. The plain truth, however, is that Mitton can commit suicide if he wants to. By advocating for state and medical assistance, it is he, not John Kelly who is advocating for outside forces to get involved in his decision. Allowing that to happen by legalizing assisted suicide puts people like John Kelly at added risk, and that is why we as a society should refuse to do it.
Here’s a link to the Al Jazeera debate:
Congratulations John. You were exemplary, as always.